While we dislike gender assumptions as much as the next girl who’s not into pink, it’s fair to assume that most guys don’t give two sh*ts about skin care. Blame it on societal influences—maybe you weren’t taught to care, and now don’t know where to start.
Good news, guys: It’s nowhere near as time-consuming as you think, but it is important. And to help you get started on your mission to a clearer complexion and smoother skin, we’ve rounded up everything a regular guy needs to know for the best skin of his life.
1. Take the tissue test.
The key to picking the best products for your skin type is—wait for it—knowing your skin type. Fortunately, there’s a ridiculously easy way to ID it, known as the tissue test, says David E. Bank, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Wash your face with a mild cleanser like Cetaphil, pat dry, and wait five minutes. Then hold a facial tissue to your face for a few minutes, and observe: If it’s bone dry, you’re probably on the dry-to-sensitive side, Bank says. If there’s oil on it, you’re oily (surprise!), and if it’s just a little moist, you’re somewhere in between—combination. Choose a cleanser accordingly.
2. Get your own stuff.
Your skin type just so happens to be the same as your girlfriend/sister/subletter from three years ago, so you just grab her bottle of face wash and cleanse away. Sharing is caring, right?Nope. Turns out, the difference between men and women’s skin care goes beyond masculine packaging. “Men have a tendency to have more oil glands in their skin and just tougher skin in general,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington, D.C.Men’s lines have been formulated specifically to take that on, says Chris Salgardo, president of Kiehl’s USA and author of MANMADE: The Essential Skincare & Grooming Reference For Every Man. So shop accordingly—not just from what’s already in the bathroom.
3. Commit to two-a-days.
Most dermatologists recommend washing your face twice a day. While that might seem like a lot, Bank says men in their 20s need it most, since their skin that tends to be slightly oilier.Washing your face morning and night helps keep your skin at its peak. But just splashing with water is fine in the morning, if you find cleansing twice leaves you dry. Another old-school method to try: washing with bar soap. Rather than use any old kind (many varieties can be drying), Bank recommends Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Antibacterial Bar Soap ($4.24; drugstore.com). The bar’s formulation combines the mildness of a pH-balanced cleanser with the breakout-fighting power of antibacterial ingredients.
4. Attack acne with benzoyl peroxide.
As much as we love innovation, some things just can’t be topped. OG teen acne savior benzoyl peroxide is one of them, Bank says. It’s especially suited for oily and acne-prone skin, as it unclogs pores, kills zit-causing bacteria, and exfoliates dead skin cells. We like Neutrogena On the Spot Acne treatment ($7.99; ulta.com), but any product should do the trick—just look for benzoyl peroxide high on the ingredients list. Even if this is the same acne-fighting product you used way back in school, it doesn’t mean it should literally be the same one. As tempting as it may be to hold onto a pot or tube until it’s finished, make sure you replace it at least every two years. If it’s any older, it becomes less and less effective, Tanzi says. Benzoyl peroxide not working for you? Try a skin-care product with sulfur, like Mario Badescu Drying Lotion ($17; mariobadescu.com). It’s antibacterial, reduces redness, and soothes the skin’s surface, says Jessica Weiser, M.D., a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group.
5. Exfoliate two to three times a week.
Ever notice that the skin on your jawline always has its act together? That’s because the process of shaving is a great exfoliant, which is crucial to keeping your skin healthy and acne-free, Salgardo says.To help the rest of your face get in on the action, exfoliate two to three times a week. If you’re oily, try a scrub with salycylic acid like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control, Power-Clear Scrub ($7.99; drugstore.com), or use a creamier formula like Dove Men+Care Deep Clean Face Scrub ($4.79; target.com) for sensitive skin, Tanzi recommends.Rub on, then rinse off the exfoliator just before shaving to clear off any dead skin cells that could cause an uneven shave, ingrowns, or more of a chance of cutting yourself, Bank says.If you’re trying to keep your skin-care regimen as limited as possible (if you just laughed at the phrase “skin-care regimen,” this one’s for you), Tanzi says to instead opt for a glycolic face wash that lightly exfoliates as you cleanse. One to try: Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser ($20; sephora.com). Just make sure you use it before shaving, or just at night—use it afterward, and it could sting.
6. Shave it off.
After you shave and before you moisturize, apply an alcohol-free aftershave with vitamin C, like Anthony After Shave Balm ($22; sephora.com). It’s not totally necessary, but a good extra step: Bank explains that it’s anti-inflammatory and works in conjunction with your sunblock to quench free radicals. Prone to redness? Try one with niacinamide, like The Art of Shaving Ocean Kelp After Shave Lotion ($40; ulta.com), which will help tone down rosacea, Bank says.A note on technique: The most common men’s skin-care error is usually shaving mishaps, Weiser notes. “Razors should not be left in the moist shower environment where bacteria and fungi thrive and cause skin infections.” Keep it in your medicine cabinent, and change the blade frequently to cut down your risk.Shaving no longer part of your life? You’re not alone: Salgardo says the trend in facial hair has grown exponentially, with 45 percent of men in the U.S. copping to some kind of facial hair. Though not necessary, he recommends a hydrating beard oil, such as Jack Black Beard Oil ($24; dermstore.com), to keep everything soft, touchable and groomed, and the skin underneath soothed. If you want to look your best, apply immediately after cleansing—just watch out for products like coconut oil, which is more waxy and can lead to acne, Weisner says.
7. Don’t forget SPF (and possibly eye cream).
The case for wearing sunscreen (yep, even in the winter) is pretty much irrefutable at this point. If you need some extra convincing, Salgardo compares your face to your car dashboard: If you expose it every day to sun, after a while it will get dull, fade, and crack. No one wants that to happen to their face. Apply a moisturizer with SPF every morning to keep skin hydrated and protected—it may seem like an extra step, but with skin cancer being what it is, it’s more necessary than you think. Trying to erase past sins? If you really want to go for it, Bank says a retinoid at night is the gold standard, helping to reverse sun damage, stimulate collagen, exfoliate, open pores, and fight pimples. Look for a prescription or over-the-counter kind—just make sure retinol is in the top four ingredients listed.Finally, Salgardo says an eye cream—like Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado ($28.50; kiehls.com)—can give noticeable results in about three weeks, if you need that semi-instant gratification boost. But overall, keep on keepin’ on—your skin will thank you, both sooner and later.